Jack Vaughn, First Director of the Latin America Regional Office

Featherweight boxer Johnny Hood had 165 bouts in an amateur career which took him all over the U.S. in pursuit of expenses and eating money. Sometimes, he fought five and six nights in a row. In amateur tournaments, such as the Golden Gloves tournament in which he won the featherweight championship of Michigan, he sometimes had to take on three opponents in one night.

Born and raised in Columbus, Mont., where the Yellowstone river pours out of the Rocky Mountains, Johnny Hood felt an early attraction toward Mexico.

“I was bumming around Mexico one summer when I ran out of money,” he remembers. “I decided I would take my boxing and turn pro, but I didn’t know enough Spanish at the time to tell whether the agent said I would get 60 pesos for four rounds or four pesos for 60 rounds. You can guess which figure was correct.” Before he was though, he had 26 professional fights in Mexico.

Johnny Hood went from there to the University of Michigan where he enrolled under his real name, Jack Vaughn (Jack Hood Vaughn in full). He worked his way to a degree in Latin American studies with a job as university boxing coach, and in 1943, he signed up with the Marines as a private. Combat duty in the Pacific landed him with invasion forces on Eniwetok, Guam and Okinawa. He was decorated and discharged as a Captain in 1946.

Vaughn returned to Michigan for a master’s degree in Latin American studies and went on to each this subject at Ann Arbor for a year—as well as Spanish and French—while continuing his own studies in the adjoining summers at the National University of Mexico. He then taught Spanish for one year at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1949, he joined the U.S. Information Agency as director of the Bi-National Center in La Paz, Bolivia.

Vaughn’s duties in Bolivia’s capital required him to conduct a large-scale     English language teaching program, teaching training courses, various lecture series, an information program—and to operate a library. He remained there two years, and was then sent on to do the same job in San Jose de Costa Rica.

In 1952, Vaughn went with the InternationaCooperation Administration (predecessor to AID) and was sent to Panama for four years as program officer and director of the joint-fund economic development program thee. He continued these duties—and all they involved of budgeting, planning and economic analysis—for another two years after he was asked to return to Bolivia as ICA program officer. In 1958, Vaughn completed a decade of service in Latin America by returning to the United States, where he joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies.

After a year of college teaching, he was assigned a desk in Washington as ICA program officer for Europe and Africa. In 1960, he was sent to a new part of the world, to Dakar in Africa, where as director of the U.S. Overseas Mission he was charged with setting up U.S. aid programs for Senegal, Mali and Mauretania. He joined the staff of the Peace Corps in 1961 because “the Peace Corps idea had a great appeal to me. And the people I knew who were putting this idea into effect appealed to me even more.”

Coates Redmon, who was a senior writer for the Peace Corps, tells in her book Come As You Are the story of  how Vaughn heard he had been selected as the next Peace Corps Director after Sarge Shriver. It was on February 16, 1966 and Vaughn was sitting in a bar at 12:30 p.m. on M Street in Georgetown with Johnny Johnston, a former AID mission director in Cuba just before Castro made his revolution. They were old friend from Latin America days and were vaguely thinking about sitting down to lunch after a couple margaritas when the bar telephone rang. “Is there a Mr. Jack Vaughn here?” inquired the bartender nervously. Vaughn identified himself.

“Mr. Vaughn,” said the bug-eyed bartender, “it’s someone who says he’s the president of the United States.”

“Wait until I finish my drink,” said Vaughn. He threw back what remained of his second margarita. He picked up the telephone. “It wasn’t a receptionist. It wasn’t a telephone operator. It was LBJ himself.”

“Vaughn, how’d you like to be director of the Peace Corps?”

“Mr. President, I thought you’d never ask.”

 

“There is something
in human nature
which responds to a
challenge like this.
I believe that in the
Peace Corps the
non-Western majority
of mankind is going
to meet a sample
of Western man at
his best.”
–Arnold Toynbee

11 Comments

Leave a comment
  • I believe the title is incorrect. Frank Mankiewicz was the 1st Latin America Regional Director, where he met the newly elected NY Senator Robert Kennedy, who after his 1965 tour of Latin America hired Mankiewicz away from the Peace Corps as his press officer. Vaughn, I believe, took over Latin America after Mankiewicz left and before Shriver moved on…

  • Isn’t there another story involving Jack Vaughn and Lyndon? I had heard that Jack Kennedy sent his probably disgruntled VP to Senagal for some ceremonial occasion, where Johnson ran into Vaughn, and took a liking to him. As I recall, Vaught got LBJ up on a camel, or an elephant or some wacky thing,, and Jack was “his boy” after that. Maybe apocryphal, but the story helped explain Vaughn’s entry and rapid rise in the Peace Corps. David Raphael

    • Thanks for this … explains why Johnson appointed a Republican to one of the best jobs in his administration. Jack was the PCD when I first arrived at PC/W … always enjoyed riding up the elevator with him to my office in those days… really an outstanding gentleman.

  • William, I did more checking and it turns out Jack Vaughn was the ‘first’ director of the Latin American Region. According to Coates Redmon’s Come As You Are, the bible of the first years of the agency, she states on page 55, about Shriver’s first sweep through Latin America to put Peace Corps programs in place and writes, “Also traveling with Shriver were Jack Vaughn, now the first full-fledged Director of the Latin American Regional Office; Dick Ottinger,who was overseeing Peace Corps programs in western Latin America for Vaughn; and Bill Haddad.

  • Hi John, So how does Mankiewicz fit in? He went from CD of Peru to Latin America Regional Director in 1964. I don”t have Redmon’s book so I don’t know what year she is talking about.

    Your story above says Jack was named in 1966 after Mankiewicz joined RFK’s staff in 1965. RFK met Mankiewicz because he was part of a government group brought together to advise Sen. Kennedy on his proposed trip to Latin America in 1965, after being elected NY’s senator Nov. 1964. i think Redmond is wrong because Jack was hired after Mankiewicz left the Agency.

    Put up your dukes….
    William

  • According to a book (actually a thick pamphlet) published in 1962, and entitled, Who’s Who in the Peace Corps Washington, Jack Hood Vaughn joined the Peace Corps in 1961, coming from ICA. He was made Regional Director of Latin America.

    According to another book, entitled Who’s Who in the Peace Corps Overseas Administration, (that I am holding in my hands) Frank Mankiewicz joined the Peace Corps on December 4,1961, and in January, 1962, he went to Peru as Peace Corps Director.

    When I returned from Ethiopia in the fall of 1964, Frank was the Regional Manager of Latin America and Jack was gone from the agency.

    • So Frank took over for Vaughn, or someone else, in Fall of 1964. When Frank left in ’65, Vaughn was picked in 1966 by LBJ to be Director. So Vaughn was not working for the Agency when LBJ picked him to take over…

      Where did Jack go after his term as LA Regional Director 1962-64?

      When and why did Jack leave the Agency in ’64? And what did he do until LBJ picked him to run the PC?

      Thanks for helping to clear that up…minor facts…but part of the Mankiewicz story with the PC.

      I drop my dukes…

  • So As I Was Saying . . .: My Somewhat Eventful Life Hardcover – February 16, 2016
    by Frank Mankiewicz (Author), Joel L. Swerdlow (Author)

    Read this book and you’ll have all your answers.

  • Jack was awesome and always full of surprises! In 1966 I was the Language Director for Camp Radley…when Jack visited the Peace Corps Training center, his push was for more focus on Spanish. As an FSI language tester, I was requested to evaluated his Spanish…he was a 5/5, full native speaker! But it was in 1968 or 1969 that I rode an elevator with Ambassador Vaughn in the US Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. By then, I was the Regional Director for the North Coast of Peace Corps/Colombia, and Jack was our Ambassador. In the elevator was Jack, a Marine guard, the DCM, and me. Ambassador Jack asked me “are you a Turtle Mr. Arias?” As a member of the Turtle Club, I knew how to answer…”You bet your sweet Ass Mr. Ambassador!” I thought the Marine was going to deck me as he was not a member of the Turtle Club. The Ambassador said, at ease Marine! If Arias had said anything else in response, he would have to buy me a round of beer…as he answered correctly, I buy him a round!

    I spoke to “lefty” Jack’s wife after the funeral…Lefty said that the most important item for Jack, were the Peace Corps Volunteers…the Peace Corps, the Peace Corps. Always keep him in your heart! “Lefty” is an RPCV!

    Thanks John…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2019. Peace Corps Worldwide.